Janet’s 80th birthday party, Sept. 10, 2016
When 4 years old, my big brother, 15, met Janet, 14, at church. They dated for 3 years, then wanted to marry, but, at their ages, could not without parental consent. I remember our Dad preaching to them all afternoon one Sunday about reasons they should wait to be older before marrying. When he finished with his exposé, he asked if they had any questions. David said, “Just one. When will you sign our marriage license?”
So they married in a beautiful outdoor ceremony under our Grandmother’s rose arbor. To try to beat the chase (as we did back in those days), David had positioned his car to drive through relatives’ backyards to a side street, and be ahead of those cars in pursuit of them. Since our Dad was privy to the plan, we were the first car behind them. I remember being frightened about the shoes tied to the back of their car because the nails were making sparks on the road! I feared the sparks could catch their car on fire or explode the gas tank. But all went well. Daddy gave up the race after a few miles, but some cars did follow them all the way to the hotel in Wellsville where they spent their first night.
At her loss, so many memories flood my mind! They lived in an upstairs apartment in a house owned by a great uncle. Since their new sofa could not maneuver the staircase, they had to hoist it up by rope to a second floor window! Through that same window, we saw a group of church people on the lawn below banging pots and pans — a chivaree or horning. That means friends came to congratulate them on their marriage and expected to be invited inside for a drink and some goodies. Unfortunately, Wikipedia includes some incorrect data for my town’s version of a chivaree. It was intended as a happy, fun surprise for the new couple. I don’t remember if Janet had any treats that night, but I do remember her being a very good cook and housewife. I watched her make dill pickles one day. She picked up the full crock of pickles with brine to move elsewhere. Even though very strong, she lost her grip on the crock. It crashed to the floor and she managed to cut herself fairly badly. I immediately ran home, just a few houses up the street on the other side, for my mother to come be her nurse.
Eleven months after their wedding, Kathy came along. I became an aunt at only 8 years old! Kathy was my living little dolly.
In my youth, our church held a Halloween party. I remember the darkened room with strings hanging from the ceiling as cobwebs, peeled grapes in a bowl representing eyeballs, and other disgusting things to feel in the darkness. First we had to guess the identity of everyone present in costumes. There was an old man who sat on a chair with one leg propped up on another chair and a cane in his hand. He never spoke but remained totally silent and motionless. A woman, dressed as a hunched-over witch, carried a broom, ran around the room, and cackled but did not speak. We tried to guess for the longest time who they were. We mistakenly guessed at their identities as we assumed these two were among our high school friends. Nope. They were a few years older than we. Yep! You have guessed their identity. It really cracked us up that a married couple came to our party and had us bewildered.
I had no serious dates in my small high school. My dating life began in college. Too bad we didn’t have email in those days! And since the expense of phone calls exceeded my budget, I had to rely on the US Mail for Janet to answer my questions and give me advice on dealing with boyfriends.
When it came time for my own wedding, who would be my Maid of Honor? Three people could easily have held that honored position: Janet, Kathy my niece, or Sharyl, my cousin 4 months younger than I, but we acted more like twins than cousins. Since we sang duets at church and school and 4H Achievement Days, we made matching outfits for our prime time appearances. I couldn’t pick one over the other, so I had a Matron of Honor – Janet, a Maid of Honor – Sharyl, and a Maiden (under 14) of Honor – Kathy.
While pregnant with my first child, Janet also found herself expecting their fourth. My baby was due at the end of September and hers at the end of December. By that time, long distance phone calls did fit in our budget. We burned up the phone lines with pregnancy information. September came, and things did not look good for Janet, yet she never said a word to me about her problems! Her little one, Isaac, who had ceased living in utero, aborted the day before Karin’s birth on September 28. While we celebrated, they mourned in silence. More than a week passed before I learned of her grief. Today, Janet MET little Isaac! What a reunion that must be!
The spring after my mother died, I drove east from St. Louis with my two kids – Karin and Greg – to tour Gettysburg and the Amish country of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We bought a miniature pewter horse and buggy as a momento. Following that tour, we continued north to my hometown. When we showed the trinket to my jokester brother, David, he set it down, then sat a few feet away and beckoned to the tiny object saying, “Come pew-ter, come pew-ter.”
Janet and her daughter-in-law, who would be moving into my mother’s home, had disposed of my mother’s belongings in one way or another, leaving the memorabilia she didn’t know how to handle in her own living room for me to sort through. Going through all those photos, letters, momentos, etc., the genealogy bug took a chunk out of me. I had to know more about what I saw and read.
Also on that visit, my kids noted Janet’s footsteps, as she walked around the upstairs of her home, were quite audible from downstairs, so they dubbed her “Aunt Thumper.”
A fond memory of that era happened when David and Janet travelled to see western towns and cowboy territory. David, a wannabe cowboy, dressed in western clothes, boots, belts, and bolo ties. We knew they were traveling, but had no idea they would be visiting us! I looked out my St. Louis kitchen window to see David and Janet getting out of their smart little, convertible red sports car in MY driveway!!! I ran outside and into their arms!!! They only stayed a few short days, but what fun days we had! Whatever we did, did not compare to the joy of just having them present!
We lost David just before Christmas 1995. Karin had already flown home from college in South Carolina to our new home in San Diego. Greg, in college in Michigan, rode with Michigan cousins to my hometown for Uncle David’s funeral while Karin flew east with us. As with my parents’ deaths, I could not bear to stand in the same room as their body. I stayed in the room where people entered the funeral home. But Janet, who did not like public notoriety, was a trouper for her husband. He suffered with MS for thirty years. Phenomenal describes the attentive care she gave to her husband for so long!
A few weeks later, we brought her to San Diego to have a taste of California living. Then, when we moved to Naperville in Chicagoland, we brought her there over St. Patrick’s Day and, from a restaurant high over the river, showed her the Chicago River turned green. We moved from Illinois to Burlington, Ontario. She made the effort of driving the three-hour drive, partially in heavy highway traffic which she hated, a couple of days before Karin’s wedding to help me with last minute preparations for the big day. I drove those three hours often to visit her. Green Acres Restaurant (now a new name) in Bolivar served the perfect breakfast with salt rising toast. With each visit, we had at least one meal at Texas Hots in Wellsville, NY, the best Texas Hots anywhere, and another meal at Sprague’s Maple Farms and Pancake House in Portville, NY, where most dishes boast of homemade maple syrup as an ingredient, while an owl hoots as you eat.
She and David did their share of traveling — to Europe and to the Caribbean. Their traveling began because David won several annual trips sponsored by one of the companies he represented. Barbados won their favor for Island living. They even took my mother and Aunt Winnie with them on one of their trips! What a fabulous thing they did for both of them! Janet had a yearning to see Alaska. I had hoped I could take her there someday. But that did not happen.
Janet, though underspoken and shy, made herself valuable to many organizations — especially to the Bolivar Historical Society’s room in the Bolivar Library where she worked many hours doing projects to support the society along with a close friend. The two of them made an unrecognized benefit to the community: they scrubbed dirty and moss covered tombstones in the area cemeteries. They did not want to be recognized for their work as it was a labor of love. I call them the unsung angels in our cemeteries.